Birding by Zipline

Birding by Zipline

Clipping into a zipline and flying through the canopy of a West Virginia hardwood forest gives thrill seekers a decidedly different perspective on their favorite birds. 

By Jennifer Bogo/Photography by Jeff Hutchens
Published: May-June 2012

As soon as Reed zips to the next platform, something brown streaks from one bush to another--a Swainson's warbler. The four of us shuffle around the platform angling for another glimpse. "There's a Swainson's over here, too," Reed reports over the radio. "It's on a rock by the creek getting a drink." Uh-huh, we think, and spend another 10 minutes studying the rhododendrons before we give up. 

"No, he was really here!" Reed protests when we finally reach him. At 85 feet, this is the highest platform on the course. "He was out in the open along the edge of the creek, walking with his feet in the water all nonchalantly. It was crazy." As he's talking, there's another brown streak, but it happens so fast I don't even register what I'm seeing before it's gone.

We peruse the mountain and Fraser magnolias on the other side of the creek, then train our binoculars on the dense understory. It's cooler here in the valley, where it's heavily shaded. The shade promotes the rhododendron growth, which provides key habitat for the Swainson's warbler. Tiny settles onto a branch that's reaching out above the platform like a seat; somewhere above our heads is a parula nest. "If you lose the hemlocks, you're going to start losing the rhododendrons," he says. "And if you lose them, you're going to lose the Swainson's."

"And trout and chub," Reed adds. After all, everything in this unbroken forest is connected. The canopy cools the water, too. 

We turn our binoculars skyward and, silhouetted in the very top of a hemlock, spy a yellow-tinged northern parula.

Then, walking across one last footbridge, we notice a rustle in the brush. The sunlight is shining directly into the pockets of open ground. We crouch down on the 150-foot span and train our binoculars in that direction. After a few minutes, a drab brown bird creeps out of the shadows, flipping over leaves as it passes through the pool of light--its white eye stripe clear even without magnification. At last: the Swainson's warbler. We're ecstatic. The final zip is 640 feet, low and fast over Mill Creek. This time we really fly. 

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Author Profile

Jennifer Bogo

Former Audubon editor Jennifer Bogo is now the science editor at Popular Mechanics

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


This looks like an awesome

This looks like an awesome zipline to try out. I will have to remember this place if I am ever up in West Virginia. Thanks for sharing!

birdwatching byzipline

I felt like I was one of the women zipping through the tree tops in West Virginia. The descriptions of the zip line process, the thoughts and observations of the author and the comments of the men working the line enabled me to zip with them through the treetops. I now have a real idea of which bird is making bird "talk" by the author's use of English phrases that sound like the bird's call. I have a new appreciation for bird watching, and West Virginia's zip line through the tree tops to meet the birds "eye to eye".

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